Add another highlight to a season filled with them for the Raptors. Beating the Pacers, the No. 1 team in the East for the vast majority of this season is impressive. Even if Indiana seems to be coming apart at the seams, completely discombobulated, a shadow of its former self, that’s still a statement win. Dwane Casey said as much afterward. It would have been less impressive had Kyle Lowry or Amir Johnson been in the lineup, but without them it was a massive jolt of confidence.
Lowry is the initial point of defence, the quarterback at the top, while Johnson is the anchor at the back, the guy that makes it all work. At the other end, Lowry and DeRozan are the offence, period and Johnson is the most efficient finisher the team has. Those are two huge players to be without.
- How did the win happen then? Well, Jonas Valanciunas was fantastic again, continuing a monster 15-game stretch that has to be quite heartening to team brass. He’s really starting to come into his own at both ends of the floor. Roy Hibbert used to give Valanciunas all kinds of trouble, but Valanciunas whupped him on Friday. Meanwhile, fellow sophomore Terrence Ross did his best to replace Lowry’s offence and even a bit of his defence. Ross has grabbed 20 rebounds and scored 40 points over his past three games.
- The Raptors played tough, refusing to back down. Chuck Hayes and John Salmons were at the forefront of that, but Valanciunas wasn’t backing down either.
- Nando de Colo looks like a bit of a find. The passing was there from the beginning, but now he appears to be gaining some confidence with his jump shot. The Raptors will bring him back for cheap next season and will have an interesting decision to make if Lowry gets the money he deserves (it will be a lot) – let Greivis Vasquez go and save about $1.4 million at the backup PG spot (or bring them both back, Vasquez is due only a small qualifying offer, just over $3M, unless he gets a contract extension or another team signs him to an offer sheet).
- Interesting comments from Dwane Casey related to Tim Leiweke saying he wants to bring Lowry back on a long-term contract.
“That’s out of my department,” Casey said. “That’s the front office. That’s their paycheck. I would if I was general manager of a team. But that’s their decision.
“Kyle has done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s helped put us in this position with this team. He’s grown, he’s matured, and that’s huge as far as we’re concerned.”
- The East race is getting mighty tight. Brooklyn and Chicago kept pace with the Raptors with blowout wins.
Toronto now has home games against Philadelphia, New York and Milwaukee and road tilts with Milwaukee, Detroit and New York. The Knicks are highly motivated, but the rest of the games could be cakewalks, with, or without Lowry and Johnson.
Chicago has home games against Detroit and Orlando and road meetings with Atlanta, Washington, Minnesota, New York and Charlotte. That’s far more challenging, so the math says the Raptors will finish ahead of Chicago, but once again, that’s why they play the games.
Brooklyn has a game in hand on both teams and will play Atlanta, Orlando and New York at home and Philadelphia, Miami, Orlando and Cleveland on the road, but sits three games back in the win column. Toronto holds tie-breakers over both Chicago and Brooklyn in the event they finish tied.
- Washington survived against the Knicks by a point, so held serve with Charlotte. The Bobcats and Wizards will meet in a huge contest in Washington next Wednesday. If Charlotte wins, it owns the tie-breaker if they end up even.